Sure, teachers’ salaries aren’t conducive to the transformational gifts that flow from business school alumni. But this doesn’t mean schools of education should not, or cannot, benefit robustly from strong alumni connections.
If your school of education doesn’t have much of a relationship with its alumni, you are in the majority. So, what to do? First and foremost, be patient. There are steps that you can take, but it is essential to lay the basic groundwork before throwing together your first reunion.
Many schools attempt too early on – and in vain – to emulate institutions with long-standing traditions of alumni donation such as Ivy League universities, some small private colleges, and certain state programs. But these models are not for everyone, and likely won’t produce much bang for your buck, or materialize at all, if you haven’t laid the groundwork. Instead, you can effectively build an alumni network from the ground up by focusing on the immediate needs of your graduates – especially the young ones.
So, what do young graduates need? A fancy dinner? A reunion weekend? Elaborate events can feel good, but they are expensive and time-consuming to organize, and will likely not provide graduates with the sustained value that will inspire sustained donations.
Keep in mind that new teachers enter a tumultuous professional landscape and policy environment. As graduates begin their careers without a clear picture of what the next years will bring, you can provide immeasurable value by connecting them with a loyal network of fellow alumni, career counselors, and professors, as well as opportunities for continuing education. This could be as simple as an opt-in database of names, class years, teaching specialty, emails, and other basic information, all of which can be collected online or on a piece of paper. Pass around some tips on how graduates can benefit by connecting with each other. Any of these initiatives will get the ball rolling.
A true alumni network does not begin with massive donations, nor will it be fundamentally constrained by your budget. Start by collecting contact information from your graduating students. Provide an online forum through which they can share lesson plans, lessons learned, and classic stories from the classroom. Get that database started. Listen to your community and find out what they need and want from you.
Your graduates can be your most valuable asset, and you can provide them with much more than a diploma. They’ll thank you soon enough.